Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors (GM), is under fire after the leaders of several Black-owned media companies accused her of racism for refusing to meet with them.
The leaders blasted Barra in a full page advertisement in the Detroit Free Press on Sunday, the outlet reported, which included an open letter that said she has refused to meet with them “consistently, over time and after multiple requests.” The ad was signed by the heads of seven Black-owned media companies, including Ice Cube, founder of Cubevision; Byron Allen, head of Allen Media Group; and former NBA player Ulysses Bridgeman, owner of Ebony and Jet magazines.
The leaders originally demanded an hour-long Zoom meeting with Barra and GM executives in the ad and asked that GM allocate at least 5 percent of its ad budget to Black-owned media companies. The group said they would like to see Barra’s resignation if these demands weren’t met.
“You stand on stage, after the death of George Floyd, saying, ‘Black Lives Matter,’ when you have refused to acknowledge us,” the ad reads. “The very definition of systemic racism is when you are ignored, excluded and you don’t have true economic inclusion.”
GM responded to the ad and stated that it’s working to be an inclusive company, which includes reallocation of ad funding, a GM spokesman Pat Morrissey told the Detroit Free Press in an email, though he didn’t provide further specifics. Morrissey claims that GM already allocates roughly 2 percent of its budget with Black-owned media companies, but he again declined to share further details with the Detroit Free Press.
This ad came after the group of leaders, all of which are Black men, have been reaching out to Barra for the past five years to get more GM ad attention. The group sent Barra an email about three weeks ago voicing their concerns, and they were told that a meeting would be set up.
“If you say status quo is OK, that’s wrong. That is racism. Let me be clear, that is racism. But if you get to the table and you lean in to effectuate change, then you are showing the world who you really are,” Allen told the Detroit Free Press. “This is an opportunity. The numbers will never lie. You’re either doing business with Black-owned media or you’re not in a fair and equitable way.”
The ad did what it needed to do, as GM met with the group of Black leaders on Monday, and scheduled another meeting for Thursday. The parties said the meeting was constructive and Allen told the Detroit Free Press that the ad promoted this meeting, even though GM disagreed.
Following Monday’s meeting, things got sticky when the group of Black leaders decided to run the same ad in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and the Michigan Chronicle on Wednesday, the Detroit Free Press reported. GM decided to cancel Thursday’s meeting, to instead focus on meeting with the signatories of the ad individually, according to Fox 2 Detroit.
“When white America does business with GM, I bet they don’t tell the white business people about their donations,” Allen told the Detroit Free Press. “We are not a charity. We are not nonprofits. We’re here to talk about business. That is the very definition of institutional racism. I am trying to help Mary be better, but Mary keeps talking to us like we’re natives from another country.”
In the midst of the events surrounding George Floyd’s murder, GM kicked it up a notch to show its support for the Black community. The motor company designated $10 million to donate to organizations that support racial equity. Barra also sent a letter to employees stating that she would commission and chair an Inclusive Advisory Board that included GM and external leaders. GM seemed poised to become a premier inclusive corporation to watch after landing on the Detroit Free Press’ 2020 DiversityInc. Top 50 list, coming in at No.30. The company even took an eight-minute, 46-second-long moment of silence on Juneteenth in support of the Black community.
Despite these actions, the Black-owned media leaders still think Barra is all talk. Allen told the Detroit Free Press that the purpose of the ad was to promote transparency in GM’s spending. Ultimately, the group is bringing these issues to light to end them and foster a long-term partnership with the motor company.
“The truth is, we’re here to make GM better,” Allen told the Detroit Free Press.
After nearly a week of pressure and turmoil, GM has pledged to quadruple the percentage of its advertising dollars that go to Black-owned media outlets between now and 2025, Variety reported. That means, by 2025, 8 percent of GM’s advertising budget will be allocated to Black media companies specifically. The motor company said that starting in May, it will begin accepting more business proposals from diverse media companies through an accredited, third-party vetting process. GM plans to meet with a series of Black media companies over the next few weeks as it rolls its new plans out.
The ad in the Detroit Free Press was also signed by Roland Martin, CEO of Nu Vision Media; Todd F. Brown, founder of Urban Edge Networks and HBCU League Pass; Don Jackson, founder, chairman and CEO of Central City Productions; and Earl Graves Jr., president and CEO of Black Enterprise.